The Beat

  • California Following Hawaii’s Lead on Raising Smoking Age?

    ·By Chad Blair
    The California Senate voted on Tuesday to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. If the state Assembly follows suit and Gov. Jerry Brown accepts the legislation, California — the largest state — would be one of the states with the highest smoking age. Hawaii’s Legislature approved similar legislation in late April, but the measure still awaits approval from Gov. David Ige. Senate Bill 1030 would also prohibit anyone under 21 from consuming tobacco products in a public place in the islands. Ige has until July 29 to decide. As in our state, groups like the Cigar Association of America opposed the California measure, pointing out that 18-year-olds serve in the military and vote. But supporters countered that raising the age level would lead to a lot fewer premature deaths for those born between 2000 and 2019. Ugh. Like, gross. Flickr: Dexters
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  • With Hawaii’s Help, Senate Votes to Reform NSA

    ·By Chad Blair
    A bill calling for reform of the National Security Agency has been signed into law by President Barack Obama. On Tuesday the U.S. Senate voted 67-to-32 on what’s called the USA Freedom Act, sending the bill to the White House. Passage of the law is described as “a significant victory for critics of the NSA, as for the first time since that post-9/11 national security law was passed, Congress voted to affirmatively rein in the nation’s surveillance powers,” says The Hill. The law ends the NSA’s controversial collection of bulk records of Americans’ phone calls. The Washington Monument. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Three parts of the Patriot Act that expired at midnight on Sunday now go back online. The reform legislation will also, says The Hill, “limit other types of data collection, add transparency measures and place a new expert panel at the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees intelligence activities but currently only hears the government’s side of an argument.” Earlier on Tuesday, the Senate rejected three amendments to the NSA reform legislation. Democrats Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz of Hawaii voted “aye” on the final bill. After the vote, Hirono released a statement that said in part, “Today’s vote is a key first step in our ongoing effort to balance our national security and civil liberties. … We live in a world where terrorism is a serious threat to our country, our economy, and to American lives. Our government needs appropriate surveillance and anti-terrorism tools to keep us safe, but it’s Congress’
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  • Why Did That Swordfish Stab the Big Island Fisherman?

    ·By Patti Epler
    The bizarre incident last week that claimed the life of Big Island charter boat captain Randy Llanes captured headlines and news clips around the world. Llanes was impaled by a swordfish after he saw it swimming in Honokohau Harbor at Kailua-Kona and then jumped in the water and speared it. This National Geographic report attempts to try to understand what happened. Scientists say it is unusual for a deep-water fish like that to be in a harbor and speculated it might have been ill, among other things. The obvious conclusion: it was probably a defensive behavior, the scientists say. Our media partner, KITV, has this story on the community’s farewell to Llanes. Note: the National Geo article mispells his name. Charter boat captain Randy Llanes died after being speared by a swordfish in the Honokohau Harbor. KITV.com
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  • Hanabusa Picked to Help Monitor Honolulu Rail Project

    ·By Nick Grube
    Former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa was appointed to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Board of Directors by Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Monday. Hanabusa will replace Carrie Okinaga, a former city attorney who recently took a job with the University of Hawaii. Okinaga was once the chairwoman of the HART board. Former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa will help oversee Honolulu’s over-budget rail project. PF Bentley/Civil Beat The Hanabusa appointment to the volunteer board comes shortly after the Legislature voted to extend a 0.5 percent General Excise Tax surcharge for rail by five years to bail out the cash-strapped project. Officials have said the project faces a shortfall of up to $910 million. Hanabusa is a labor attorney, who most recently began took on the Hawaii State Teachers Association as a client. She ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 losing in a tight race to U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz. The 10-member HART board is tasked with overseeing the $6 billion rail project, which will run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.  
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  • Hawaii Ranked 5th for Safest to Live in US

    ·By Chad Blair
    Those crazy number-crunchers at WalletHub are at it again, this time telling us which states are safest. In the new study, Hawaii is ranked at No. 5 for overall safety. Massachusetts is tops, Mississippi is last. “By safety, we’re not referring exclusively to protection from violence and crime,” say the Hubsters. “This WalletHub study encompasses various forms of safety, including workplace safety, emergency preparedness, home and community stability, road safety and, of course, financial security.” Here’s how the data breaks down for the Aloha State: Safety Conditions in Hawaii (1=Safest; 25=Avg.)  2nd – Number of Murders & Non-Negligent Manslaughters per 100,000 Residents 11th – Number of Assaults per 100,000 Residents 3rd – Number of Fatal Occupational Injuries per 100,000 Employees 22nd – Number of Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles of Travel 9th – Unemployment Rate 16th – Bullying Incidents Rate 19th – Number of Sex Offenders per 100,000 Residents 2nd – Share of the Population with No Health Insurance Hawaii also ranks first in terms of safety from natural disasters. Tornado-plagued Kansas and Oklahoma are on the opposite end of that spectrum. June, by the way, is National Safety Month. Rejoice.    
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  • USA Freedom Act Advances in US Senate

    ·By Chad Blair
    In a rare Sunday vote, the U.S. Senate moved to keep alive a bill that calls for reforming the National Security Agency. The USA Freedom Act, which previously passed the U.S. House of Representatives, was advanced in a 77-to-17 vote — well above the 60 votes necessary to prevent a filibuster. Mazie Hirono, the Democrat of Hawaii, voted “aye.” Brian Schatz, Hawaii’s other Democrat in the Senate, was among six senators who did not cast a vote; he was attending his father’s funeral in Hawaii. The U.S. Supreme Court. Cory Lum/Civil Beat “Several more steps are required, however, before a vote on final passage, which wouldn’t happen until Tuesday at 2 a.m. at the earliest in the face of maximum obstruction from Rand Paul (R-Ky.),” says Roll Call. Paul is running for president and has vowed to kill the USA Patriot Act, calling it illegal and an assault on American civil liberties. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wanted to extend the Patriot Act but was not able to persuade enough of his colleagues. The Patriot Act was approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Key provisions of the Patriot Act, including the mass collection of phone records by the NSA, are set to expire at midnight EST Sunday. The USA Freedom Act would overhaul the Patriot Act and “curtail the bulk collection of phone records, a program that was exposed by Edward J. Snowden,” a former contractor for the NSA who worked in Hawaii
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  • Want a Decent Apartment? You’ll Have to Earn $31 Per Hour

    ·By Chad Blair
    Yet more confirmation that housing is really, really expensive in Hawaii. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has released a report saying that folks in our state need to earn $31.61 per hour to afford a “modest” two-bedroom apartment. According to the report, that makes Hawaii more expensive than any other state, even second-place California and third-place District of Columbia. The national average wage is $19.35 per hour. NLIHC Hawaii’s stats are somewhat misleading because they include Honolulu’s required wage of nearly 35 bucks an hour compared with the other three counties, which are in the $22 to $24 range. Meanwhile, the fair market rate for a two-bedroom unit here is estimated to be $1,644 a month, $1,257 for a one-bedroom. More than 40 percent of us rent. Here’s some perspective, says the coalition: “A renter earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work 85 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rent at the Fair Market Rent and 102 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom Fair Market Rent.” Thinking of moving? Consider Arkansas, which ranks 51st (Washington, D.C. was included) when it comes to wages and renting. You’ll only have to find a job paying $12.95 an hour.
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  • Hawaii DOT Settles Driver’s License Exam Lawsuit

    ·By Chad Blair
    The Hawaii Department of Transportation and the nonprofit Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) said Friday that a lawsuit was settled regarding the translation of driver’s examinations for vehicle licenses. United States District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway approved the settlement. In 2013, FACE said it was concerned that speakers of Marshallese, Chuukese and Ilocano were being disenfranchised because exams were not available in those languages. Marshallese and Chuukese making their case to the Maui DOT in April 2013. Faith Action for Community Equity Translations of the driver’s test began in 2001, but they were later suspended after new state laws led to changes in the test. The DOT did, however, provide translations into eight other languages including Japanese and Tagalog. FACE filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the DOT discriminated against foreign-born residents of Hawaii “by not offering a translated exam for a period of more than five years after previously existing translations were removed from service when additional questions needed to be added to the exam,” according to a joint press release. For its part, the DOT says it consistently disputed that there was “any discriminatory motive” involved in decision-making about the translated exams. In a statement, DOT Director Ford Fuchigami said his department is committed “to serving all of Hawaii’s residents regardless of who they are or where they are from.” The DOT currently offers the examination in 13 languages, said to make Hawaii the only state under 2 million people to offer the exam in more than 10 languages, including Hawaiian. FACE said it is pleased with the outcome
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  • Homeland Security Action Should Ease Japan-Kona Flights

    ·By Richard Wiens
    Hawaii’s tourism industry is expected to benefit from a Friday announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that it will expand air preclearance operations to Narita, Japan, and nine new foreign airports. The preclearance program stations U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in foreign airports, clearing travelers at their point of origin to avoid lengthy processing at busy American airports. This would also allow airports without customs officers, including Kona Airport, to begin accepting international flights. There are currently 15 preclearance locations in six foreign countries. Last year, Japanese tourists made up 18 percent of Hawaii’s visitors and brought more than $2.5 billion into the state’s economy. Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, co-chair of the Senate Tourism Caucus, issued a statement saying he held hearings on the state of the tourism and travel industry last year and worked with the Department of State to make it easier for low-risk international travelers to visit the U.S. “We’ve been pushing for preclearance for two years, and it has gone from pie in the sky to reality,” Schatz said in the statement.  “This is the first step towards making it a lot easier for Japanese visitors to come to Hawaii.  Although work remains to be done, this also has enormous implications in terms of our efforts in establishing direct flights from Japan to Kona.” Christopher Ebdon/Flickr.com    
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  • Hawaii County Prosecutor to Dismiss Charges Against Some TMT Protestors

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    A Big Island prosecutor plans to dismiss charges against several protestors who were arrested blocking construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea. The Associated Press reported Friday that Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth said he plans to drop the charges against about 10 people who had been charged with trespassing. The rest of the 31 protestors arrested had been charged with obstruction of government operations. Roth told the AP that the trespassing cases need further investigation and that he could re-file the cases later. Click here to read Civil Beat’s coverage of the Mauna Kea controversy.
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  • Tourism Authority: Hawaii Hosting More Visitors So Far in 2015

    ·By Richard Wiens
    Hawaii hosted more visitors last month than in April 2014, and they spent more, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. For the year, visitors are up but their spending is about the same as last year. Total visitor arrivals to the islands last month (677,754) represented a 2.3 percent increase over the same period a year ago, according to the authority’s preliminary statistics. And their average daily spending was up 3.2 percent to $196 per person. Here are some other tidbits gleaned from the authority’s statistics: • Arrivals by air grew 4.1 percent to 665,393 visitors, offsetting a 46.6 percent decline in arrivals by cruise ships. • Visitors arriving by air from the Western United States increased 7.7 percent to 295,683 visitors, while those arriving from the U.S. East increased 3.6 percent to 133,509. • After four previous months of declines, Japanese arrivals rose 1.9 percent year over year to 98,240 visitors in April. • Canadian arrivals declined 8.3 percent to 45,422 visitors. • Arrivals from all other markets rose 2.9 percent to 92,538 visitors. • Overall visitor days increased on Oahu (up 4.8 percent), Maui (2.5 percent) and Hawaii Island (4.3 percent) and were relatively unchanged for Kauai. • For the first four months of 2015, total arrivals (by air and by cruise ships) increased 2.9 percent over the same months last year to 2,798,427 visitors. Total visitor expenditures of $5 billion were similar to 2014. Flickr.com
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  • HCDA Rejects Howard Hughes Plan to Build Rental Housing

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    The Hawaii Community Development Authority’s Kakaako board rejected a proposal from Howard Hughes Corp. to build rental housing at 988 Halekauwila. HCDA spokeswoman Lindsey Doi said that the board voted 9-0 against the motion. Howard Hughes already has permission to build for-sale housing at the site through a 2013 permit, but was seeking instead to build 375 rental units that would be at below-market rates for 15 years. Nauru tower, left, and other developments and condominiums in Kakaako. Cory Lum/Civil Beat That’s more affordable units than Howard Hughes is required to provide under HCDA’s reserved housing rules. But Doi said some HCDA board members wanted to require the units to be affordable for 30 years, a proposal that Howard Hughes resisted. Doi said the developer is allowed to return to the board in June to appeal the decision. Honolulu has a shortage of affordable housing, and state studies have emphasized the need for thousands of new rental units to meet demand over the next five years. While Kakaako has been experiencing a construction boom, relatively little has been built for low-income residents.
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  • Supreme Court Dismisses McDermott, Upholds Marriage Law

    ·By Todd Simmons
    Chalk up another loss for state Rep. Bob McDermott in the marriage wars. The Ewa Beach Republican was summarily brushed aside Wednesday by the state Supreme Court, which dismissed his challenge to Hawaii’s Marriage Equality Act for lack of standing. While the dismissal might sound technical, the opinion’s language was significant, said state Attorney General Doug Chin in a statement. “The most important part of the Supreme Court’s ruling was its conclusion that the ‘Legislature’s decision to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples did not, in any way, diminish the right to marry’ for the plaintiffs or anyone else,” said Chin, quoting from the opinion. McDermott has been battling marriage equality at the Legislature and in the court system for two years now. While the law was still being debated as a bill in 2013, he unsuccessfully sought an injunction to prevent it from being implemented later. His multiple lawsuits and court actions since then and work in consecutive legislative sessions to undercut the law or put it before voters via a referendum repeal effort have all failed. He was joined in the latest unsuccessful challenge by Garret Hashimoto of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, anti-gay activist /Ohio lawyer David Langdon and William E.K. Kumia. Following Wednesday’s decision, McDermott reportedly called the Supreme Court’s decision “cowardly.”
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  • Ex-City Councilman Nestor Garcia Agrees to Pay Another City Fine

    ·By Richard Wiens
    Former City Councilman Nestor Garcia — now a reporter for KHON2 News — has agreed to pay an $8,100 civil fine in connection with accusations that he accepted accepted prohibited gifts from lobbyists and failed to disclose conflicts of interest when he voted on legislation that affected those lobbyists, the City and County of Honolulu Ethics Commission announced Wednesday. The commission said in a statement that it had not concluded that the charges were valid, but the fine was agreed to between the parties to resolve the charges without further proceedings. On Jan. 21, the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Garcia had violated city laws regarding the acceptance of prohibited gifts and the failure to disclose conflicts of interest. Nestor Garcia at a 2011 press conference. Michael Levine/Civil Beat Garcia accepted $1,764 worth of gifts such as free meals and golf to discuss matters with two lobbyists regarding rail transit, transit-oriented development, Kapolei growth and pending issues before the City Council, the commission said in its advisory opinion. The commission subpoenaed business expense reports of the two lobbyists, whom it declined to identify because doing so might “cause a chilling effect on witness cooperation for future cases,” the opinion stated Garcia failed to disclose conflicts of interest in 72 bills and resolutions that affected the two lobbyists’ interests, the commission stated, including rail transit and and Kapolei. This won’t be the first time Garcia has paid a fine to the city at the behest of the Ethics Commission. “One of the most
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  • Honolulu Prosecutor Drops Sex Assault Charges for Massage Parlor Workers

    ·By Nick Grube
    UPDATED 5:47 p.m. 5/27/15 Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro dismissed sexual assault charges Wednesday against 16 massage parlor employees who were arrested as part of a city police sting earlier this month. Kaneshiro said in a press release that there was insufficient evidence to take the case to trial, although he believed the Honolulu Police Department did have probable cause to make the arrests. Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro won’t charge 16 massage parlor workers with sexual assault after they were arrested as part of an HPD prostitution sting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat According to news reports, the employees worked at massage parlors around Ala Moana that were purported to be involved in prostitution. The Honolulu Police Department sting was in response to complaints from neighbors about the alleged illegal activity. But HPD’s tactics have come under fire, especially since the fourth degree sex assault charges carry a harsher penalty than prostitution. Myles Briener is an attorney representing some of the women. He told the Associated Press that HPD was “experimenting with the limits of the constitution.” Breiner said that in at least one case an HPD officer took off his clothes and placed a worker’s hands on his genitals. “Sex assault in the fourth degree is a nonconsensual touching of a sexual nature,” he told the AP. “How can you say it’s not consensual when the officers are going into these establishments intending to be touched?” UPDATE HPD Spokeswoman Michelle Yu issued a response to Kaneshiro’s dismissal of the charges Wednesday afternoon, saying in a written statement that the department will not
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  • Hawaii: The Least-Fattest State in the Nation

    ·By Chad Blair
    Our traffic sucks and it costs too much to live here, but here’s a little news to cheer you up: Hawaii had the lowest obesity rate in the country in 2014, with Colorado not far behind. Bringing up the rear, so to speak, are Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma, the states where obesity is the highest. Screen shot. “These data, collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, are based on respondents’ self-reported height and weight, which are used to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI) scores,” according to the report. “Americans who have a body mass index of 30 or higher are classified as obese.” Hawaii’s obesity index is 19, for example, while Mississippi’s is 35.2. More helpful info: “Gallup and Healthways have found a consistent and strong link between obesity and Americans’ overall well-being. Therefore, many of the states with the lowest obesity rates are also among those with the highest overall Well-Being Index scores.” So, put down that malasada and Coke and have guava juice and some kale.
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  • Big Storms on Hawaii’s Horizon? That’s the Forecast

    ·By Chad Blair
    Got bottled water? Batteries and flashlights? Canned goods and toilet paper? It’s probably a pretty good idea to stock up on supplies, if forecasters from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center are correct. Thanks to El Niño conditions — warmer ocean waters that can make for stronger storm conditions — they foresee between 5-to-8 storms in the Central Pacific, up from 4-to-7 last year. Iselle and Julio heading toward Hawaii in 2014. National Weather Service “The outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 5 percent chance of a below-normal season,” says KITV. Last August, you’ll recall, Hawaii was hit by Tropical Storm Iselle, which caused big damage in the Puna area of the Big Island. Hurricane Season in Hawaii officially begins June 1 and runs through November. Time to visit Costco and Longs, no? Tamura’s too.
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  • Hirono Joins McCain on Junket to Singapore

    ·By Chad Blair
    Sen. Mazie Hirono, the Democrat of Hawaii, will join a congressional delegation to Singapore this week led by Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain’s delegation will also visit Vietnam “at a critical time for U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region,” according to McCain’s office. The delegation will mark the 20th anniversary of the normalization of relations with the United States. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) are part of the trip. Singapore. Flickr: Kah-Wai Lin In Singapore, the delegation will be joined by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO). Hirono, a member of Armed Services, is not going on the Vietnam leg. In Singapore, senators will participate in The Shangri-La Dialogue, billed as “an annual conclave of Asia-Pacific defense ministers and policy makers, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.” This year’s summit is expected “to focus on China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea.” Last week, McCain, Sullivan and Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii’s other Democrat in the chamber, introduced a resolution condemning China’s construction of artificial land formations on the Spratly Islands and called for “a peaceful and multilateral resolution to the South China Sea territorial dispute.” Schatz is a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
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  • No Aloha for Cameron Crowe’s ‘Aloha’ Movie?

    ·By Chad Blair
    It doesn’t open until Friday, but the new movie “Aloha” is already garnering some negative reviews. Some Native Hawaiians say the very title of the Cameron Crowe film, which is set in Hawaii, is “a disrespectful misappropriation of culture and simplifies a word that’s rich with meaning.” Meanwhile, some Asian-Americans say the flick “whitewashes” Hawaii because it has “an all white leading cast and uses Asian actors mostly in non-speaking roles.” “Aloha” stars Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, with other roles filled by Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray. It’s pointed out that “Aloha” joins a long line of films — e.g., “The Descendants,” “50 First Dates,” “Blue Crush,” “Pearl Harbor” — that fall short in accurately reflecting Hawaii’s demographics. Hawaii’s white population is about 25-30 percent white. Here’s the trailer for “Aloha.” Judge for yourself:
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  • Gabbard: ‘Clearly ISIS Has Gained Momentum’

    ·By Chad Blair
    Tulsi Gabbard is once again making headlines for disagreeing with fellow Democrat Barack Obama. On CNN’s “State of the Nation” Sunday, the Hawaii U.S. representative and military veteran countered the president’s assessment that the United States-led coalition is not losing to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “Clearly ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week, as we’ve seen the ground that they gained both in Iraq and Syria,” said Gabbard. Palmyra, Syria. Flick: Varun Shiv Kapur ISIS recently captured the city of Ramadi in Iraq and the city of Palmyra in Syria. Asked about Ramadi, Obama told The Atlantic last week, “No, I don’t think we’re losing. … There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback.” Gabbard also said that the U.S. should arm the Kurds in the fight against ISIS.  
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UH Prof. Decodes Genome of Western Painted Turtle

·By civilbeat

A University of Hawaii at Manoa biology professor has helped decode the genome of a the Western Painted Turtle — a well-studied freshwater species that is widespread throughout North America.

The feat is noteworthy because the Western Painted Turtle marks the second reptile species for which a complete genome sequence has been documented, according to a UHM press release. The first one was the green anole lizard.

Genome sequencing is especially valuable for scientists because it can lend insight into certain human health-related problems. For example, understanding how the Western Painted Turtles protect their vital organs when deprived of oxygen could enhance treatment of a human in the event of a heart attack or stroke, the press release says. 

Scientists say turtles are fascinating animals because of how old they are and how slowly they evolve. And Western Painted Turtles are of particular interest in part because they can hibernate during long winters by burying themselves in frigid mud, surviving with little oxygen for as long as four months. No other four-footed animal can do that. (Hawaii doesn’t have any native freshwater turtles, but species have been introduced as pets and for food.)

Robert Thomson, the professor, worked with scientists at Washington University’s Genome Institute to sequence the turtle’s genome. The center is one of three in the state whose sequencing efforts are funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

Photo courtesy of Just chaos.

— Alia Wong

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